Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam urged the Catholics to pray for a “just verdict” before the Court of Appeals hearing today. Malay-speaking Christians had long used “Allah” to mean God, said the church. And a lower court in 2009 permitted the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, to use “Allah” in its Malay-language edition. But the Court of Appeals today ruled the government had the right to challenge the lower court verdict.
Some 200 protesters from Malay-right group Perkasa and other organisations rallied outside the courthouse after the ruling, reported The Malaysian Insider.
The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, expressed disappointment but said his team would accept the ruling and argue its case next month.
Appeal hearings are due to begin on September 10.
The earlier verdict sparked a wave of arson and vandalism at 11 churches, a Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms, reported AP.
In effect, non-Muslims are banned from using “Allah”. The government’s ban remains in effect because of a stay order on the verdict until the appeals process is completed, said AP.
The appeal court’s ruling “is likely to compound the perception that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration is growing more hardline and ‘Taliban-like’ in its policies after losing the popular vote in the recently concluded May 5 general elections”, commented the Malaysia Chronicle.
It added: “Political observers also point to Najib’s Umno party, which is due to hold its party election in October. ‘It is not unfair to suspect some amount of political influence on today’s decision. If the government’s appeal had been struck out, Najib and Hishammuddin (his cousin and the former Home Minister) will come under fire at the Umno election,’ a political analyst told Malaysia Chronicle.”
“Allah” is Arabic for “God”, but it is not just Muslims who use the word. God is called “Allah” also by Arab Christians and the Christians of Malta. The Maltese language is akin to Arabic.
The noted writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens, who spent his earliest years in Malta and died in December 2011, expressed his alarm at what was happening in Malaysia. Writing in Slate magazine in February 2010, he commented on the Malaysian case in an article headlined Holy Names:
“Arabic is a great language of literature and poetry, and derivations from it (such as algebra) are found in our own dictionaries as well as across the geography of Spain (Alhambra, Alcázar. etc.). You might think that Muslims would be flattered that Christians in Mediterranean Europe and Asia employ the Arabic word for the divine… But it seems that grim sectarianism now carries all before it.”